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Anjali Enjeti

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Novelist Taylor Brown pens an ode to Georgia’s “Little Amazon”

The River of Kings by Taylor BrownAt 137 miles, the Altamaha River—the longest free-flowing river in Georgia—contains one of the state’s most undisturbed ecosystems. Also known as the “Little Amazon,” it’s home to a number of rare and endangered species, including sturgeons, bony-plated fish that can grow up to eight feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. In the summers they launch high into the air (no one’s sure why) with such force they can injure or kill unlucky boaters.

In Taylor Brown’s brilliant second novel, brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins kayak down the Altamaha to cast their father Hiram’s ashes into the ocean. He was killed, they’re told, by a “sturgeon strike.” As they paddle, they recall Hiram’s stories about the legendary Altamaha-ha, a fabled sea monster from the Mesozoic era.

The brothers’ story is interwoven with that of their father, a failed shrimper who struggled to raise his young sons along the banks of the river in the 1970s and 1980s. A third narrative takes place 400 years earlier, as Jacques Le Moyne, a character based on the real-life artist and cartographer, sketches the Georgia coast as part of an expedition to found a French settlement. Le Moyne spots a “monster, its spine armored like the giant lizards,” and we’re left to wonder: Is it the Altamaha-ha?

Brown’s prose reads like a love poem to the area’s ecology. It’s no wonder. The author was raised in St. Simons, just 20 miles north of the Altamaha’s mouth. On an overnight paddle trip in 2003, Brown and his buddies came across a shed adorned with animal skulls and gutted fish. “The mystery of that place—of what might have been going on there—became the seed of this novel,” he says.

Although Brown’s depiction of Native Americans, as encountered by Le Moyne in the 1500s, falls flat, the main characters of each era are vivid, complex, and deeply conflicted about their environment. The novel deftly reels its readers into a world where life and death are intimately entwined with the river’s ebb and flow.

Taylor Brown on…
His own (almost) Altamaha-ha spotting: “It turned out to be a feral hog swimming across the river.”

Drawing inspiration from the river: “It [has] a mythology all its own. It’s rumored to have been home to Scottish  highlanders and Spanish conquistadors.”

The hazards of research: “I was on a boat that ran aground, and my friends and I were forced to navigate home in the middle of the night, while the eyes of alligators burned.”

Pick up The River of Kings, a second novel from Georgia coast native Taylor Brown, on March 21.

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

Fall reading: Cozy up with these 5 books from Georgia authors

Fall reading
Illustration by Lisk Feng

Among the Living
by Jonathan Rabb (Other Press), available 10/4
In his latest novel, Rabb considers the Jim Crow South through the lens of Jewish experience. In 1947, after losing nearly all of his family in the Holocaust, Yitzhak Goldah arrives in Savannah, where he relates far more to the South’s persecuted African Americans than to the members of what he finds to be a fractured Jewish community. Rabb sublimely navigates Yitzhak’s desperate search for something resembling the life he’d once known. —Anjali Enjeti

The Sleeping World
by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes (Touchstone)
In 1977 Spanish university student Mosca ditches her exams and small hometown to uncover what happened to her brother, Alexis, who disappeared in the final days of Francisco Franco’s brutal dictatorship. As Mosca and three friends cross Spain by foot and train, they discover a tumultuous country whose people are fighting to establish a new order. The novel is a bracing debut from Fuentes, a PhD student at the University of Georgia. —Anjali Enjeti

Bandit
by Molly Brodak (Grove Atlantic), available 10/4
Thirteen-year-old Molly Brodak spent the summer of 1994 playing endless games of Super Mario Bros. 3. Her father developed a different obsession that summer: robbing banks. His disguise—a fake mustache and newsboy cap—earned him the nickname “Super Mario Bros. Bandit,” while his crimes earned him two lengthy prison sentences. In her supremely readable memoir, Brodak attempts to make sense of her father—an enigmatic, larger-than-life character. —Tray Butler

Virgin and Other Stories
by April Ayers Lawson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), available 11/1
After Lawson published her short story “Virgin” in the Paris Review in 2010, it didn’t take long for the author to gather both a Plimpton Prize for Fiction and a book deal. The resulting debut is a collection of five stories about young people who are waking up to the world and all its complications. Lawson, a recent lecturer at Emory, sets her work in a deeply religious yet sensual South, underlining the region’s twin embrace of sin and salvation. —Jennifer Rainey Marquez

The Guineveres
by Sarah Domet (Flatiron Books), available 10/4
This debut novel, a coming-of-age tale set in a convent, tells the story of four teenage girls all inexplicably named Guinevere and all desperate to escape the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration. Domet’s lively writing is as original as her plot, which knits the Guineveres’ struggles together with stories of female saints. Poignant and often funny, Domet captures the fever of teenage desire by pinning it against the confines of a strict religious environment. —Tess Malone

This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.

Ten books for tweens and teens by Georgia writers

Books for young adults by Georgia authorsIf you loved The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Pick up The Last Monster by Ginger Garrett
Soon after 13-year-old cancer survivor Sofia is fit with her new prosthetic leg, she discovers she’s been chosen to protect a menagerie of ancient mythological monsters.

If you loved The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Pick up The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
In a magical world inspired by Indian mythology, Maya, a 17-year-old princess, is cursed with a terrible fortune. But when tragedy strikes, she must assume the throne and confront a dangerous secret.

If you loved Blubber by Judy Blume
Pick up This Is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker by Terra Elan McVoy
When 12-year-old Fiona’s diary is stolen and her innermost thoughts are exposed, she loses both her dignity and her best friend. Available May 10.

If you loved Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Pick up Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre
Twelve-year-old Lou is determined to save her Civil War–era house from being condemned. But she doesn’t expect to unspool a painful family history—or expose present-day prejudice.

If you loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Pick up Anything Could Happen by Will Walton
In this charmingly sweet debut, 15-year-old Tretch’s big gay secret threatens his relationships with both his straight best friend and his closed-minded parents.

If you loved Uglies by Scott Westerfield
Pick up Changers Book One: Drew by Allison Glock-Cooper and T Cooper
When Ethan Miller wakes up on the first day of his freshman year in high school, he’s startled to discover he’s become a girl named Drew. Turns out Ethan’s part of a crew of shape-shifting “changers,” and must live each of the next four years with a brand-new identity. Part of a four-book series (volumes three and four are still in the works).

If you loved Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Pick up Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sarah Schauerte Reida
What’s a 13-year-old aspiring director to do when she finds a goblin deep in the woods near her Pennsylvania home? Produce a movie starring her beastly new friend, of course. Available September 16

If you loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Greene and David Levithan
Pick up Simon vs. the Home Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This award-winning debut stars 16-year-old Simon, who struggles with being not-quite-openly gay in Georgia. But now he’s got an even bigger problem—he’s being blackmailed because of his sexual identity.

If you loved Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Pick up Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman
This clever debut reimagines the 17th-century love story between penniless orphan Anne Barrett and young Edward “Teach” Drummond, the son of a rich merchant who would one day become the notorious pirate, Blackbeard.

If you loved The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Pick up Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
On a family trip to Pakistan, 17-year-old Nalia must assert herself when her parents try to push her into an arranged marriage.

Kids in the ATL: “You’ll love these local authors” is reason 21 of our 25 Reasons it’s Great to be a Kid in Atlanta. To read the full list, grab a copy of our May 2016 issue, on newsstands now.

A version of this article originally appeared in our May 2016 issue.

Spring reading: 5 new books by Georgia authors to toss in your suitcase

Spring books
Photograph by Forrest Aguar; Styling by Michelle Norris

A Prisoner in Malta
by Phillip DePoy (Minotaur Books), available now
In 1583, 19-year-old playwright Christopher Marlowe is recruited to rescue an English spy in Malta and foil a coup to dethrone Queen Elizabeth. But a warrant for Marlowe’s arrest marks him as a target and upends his quest. In this first novel of a new series, DePoy deftly blends Elizabethan history and double-crossing espionage. And in Marlowe, the author crafts a wise-cracking, chimerical character whose creative gifts serve as his best weapon. —Anjali Enjeti

The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson (William Morrow), available now
Paula Vauss is a hard-bitten Atlanta divorce lawyer who thinks she has everything under control—until her long-estranged mother, Kai, writes to say she’s dying and a surprise half brother walks into her office. Jumping between Paula’s troubled childhood and her present-day search for Kai, Jackson weaves an engrossing detective story that explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. —Tess Malone

Suburban Gospel
by Mark Beaver (Hub City Press), available now
The son of a proud, blue-collar Southern Baptist, Mark Beaver was raised in the gospel of sin and salvation. But this debut memoir, about Beaver’s adolescence in late 1970s and early 1980s Atlanta, isn’t really about growing up in the church so much as growing beyond it. Yet Beaver never loses sight of his faith entirely; in the emotional final chapter, Beaver loses his father and welcomes a newborn daughter, recognizing her birth as the kind of holy miracle he was reared to believe in. —Jennifer Rainey Marquez

A Fine Imitation
by Amber Brock (Crown), available May 3
Wealthy socialite Vera Bellington lives in a penthouse atop Prohibition-era Park Avenue, but she’s restless, a bird in a gilded cage that she shares with a cold, detached husband. After a secretive artist, Emil, shows up to paint a mural in Vera’s apartment building, their budding relationship prompts her to question her privileged but empty life and the choices that led to it a decade earlier. —Jennifer Rainey Marquez

Over the Plain Houses
by Julia Franks (Hub City Press), available May 1
In this electrifying debut novel, set in 1930s Appalachia, farm wife Irenie Lambey contemplates how to end her pregnancy by day and wanders the mountains of North Carolina by night to escape her husband, Brodis, a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Franks’s chilling prose evokes rural Southerners’ isolation and distrust of outsiders, and the dangers inherent in a woman’s desire to flee her marriage and control her own body. —Anjali Enjeti

This article originally appeared in our April 2016 issue.

Thoughts of Home: Blueprint for a baby

Thoughts of Home
Illustration by Claire Mallison

The day we signed the contract to build our semi-custom home in North Fulton, I was a shell of a person, so hollowed out I could hear my own heartbeat echoing through its four chambers. I’d had two miscarriages in three months, and those losses were merely the halfway point in a streak of tragedies and disappointments. My husband’s good friend, a father of two very young children, had died suddenly in his sleep. My grandmother in India had passed away before getting to meet our daughters, then ages five and three. Our youngest had suffered a life-threatening reaction to medication, and we had made a poor investment at the peak of the recession. During nine horrific months—a gestation of catastrophe—my soul felt as if it had been razed to the ground, jackhammered into pieces, and dumped in a far-off landfill

At the builder’s design studio, I feigned enthusiasm while selecting our floor plan, the stain for our hardwood floors, the style of our kitchen cabinets. After we returned to Philadelphia to wrap up our lives in the Northeast, the contractor emailed us photographs of our home’s metamorphosis: a gray slab of concrete, a skeleton of wood planks, electrical wires weaving through a maze of cottony insulation. I watched our home evolve on the screen, and I became pregnant again—soon miscarrying for the third time. The dream of having another child was slipping away, and I worried that the nursery I’d envisioned in our new home might only ever serve as an office.

Four months later, after we had moved into a temporary apartment in north Atlanta, I was pregnant again. During those early agonizing months, I did whatever I could to distract myself from the fear of losing another pregnancy. I pored over reviews of sofas, researched playsets for the backyard, ran my fingers over the fibers of decorative rugs, scoured clearance aisles at the North Georgia Premium Outlets. Building a house served as the best sort of distraction from a pregnancy I feared wouldn’t make it to term.

I was 18 weeks pregnant when our builder handed us the keys. As we unpacked, and the grief from our previous losses slowly subsided, I found myself falling in love with our house—how the sun bathed the living room in a bright light from morning until late afternoon, how our daughters’ giggles echoed through the kitchen, how the orange flames stretched long and thin in our new fireplace.

In the spring, as the maple trees began to bud new leaves, as our dormant grass evolved into a verdant carpet, we welcomed a healthy baby girl. For the first time, our house—still empty of furniture, still naked of wall decor—felt complete, like the final stop on a long journey. In the nursery, when I snuggled my newborn daughter in the glider rocker, her gaze focused on my face, a truth suddenly unveiled itself. I kissed her soft cheek, whispered it in her tiny, crescent-shaped ear:

Yes, sweet girl. We built this house for you.

Anjali Enjeti is an award-winning essayist and literary critic. A former attorney, she has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere.

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